… and why I have a God complex.
A game review of Banished.
I think I have a God complex.
If I look back over the years, on the games that I have played obsessively, most involve watching tiny animated people whizzing around on daily business, as I watch from my comfortable computer chair, carefully adjusting their little world to my liking. And, when I get sick of them, I just lock them in a tiny room and delete the door, or cut off their access to a hospital, or unleash a great plague upon their world and watch as society crumbles into chaos.
Like I said, God complex.
But Banished is different. You begin with a little society of about ten families who have been kicked out of their original home and are forced to settle in a remote and isolated world. You set them to work, chopping down trees, mining rock, and gathering resources; achieving those short term goals until you can build them their means to survive. Sometimes it takes time – you don’t quite balance everything perfectly, and half your town dies of starvation on the tenth winter. But you re-build, and watch generations grow and work and die so their children may have a better tomorrow. Your heart goes out to these people.
Which is why it is all the more devastating when things go wrong.
And things go wrong all the time, whether it be disasters, disease or your own incompetence. Then you are forced to watch as gravestone after gravestone pops up on screen, and you flounder, trying to adjust your workers to continue with the manner of living your citizens have become accustomed too. Because, of course, as more of the town dies, not only do you fail at the overall aim of survival, but the fewer workers you have to gather your resources . It is an unforgiving game, and one I sometimes find genuinely difficult. Your success can be utterly dependant on how you play the first ten minutes. What is more important – clothing, or tools? Emotional support, or medicine? Food or shelter?
However, the later game mechanics can be just as cruel. Farms cannot be farmed indefinitely, and will eventually decrease their yield. Fishing wharves will slowly deplete the population of fish. Iron and Stone will also vanish from the world, and you’ll be forced to build giant holes in the ground until you run out of room. And room is precious, as you need forests for lumber, and to collect the necessary herbs used in medicines. Very much like Tropico, SimCity and other games of this particular simulation genre, it whittles down into a numbers game. You have to balance various factors to maximise resource production, and attempt to prevent a feedback loop from ruining your best laid plans. For example, you have to keep up logging production, otherwise you may not only run out of firewood and have your workers freeze to death, but your supply of tools may run out first, reducing resource production all over the bored, including firewood. And your workers will still freeze to death.
The systems have been expertly linked, creating a level of frustration and determination that makes Banished so very rewarding. I never expected that I would punch air the first time I managed to creep my population past the five-hundred mark, but I felt a sense of pride in my self-sufficient little community. It is a game of surprising empathy and rich mechanics, devoid of allegiance to any particular society. It’s just you, and your people, against this little world. And together, you have to overcome the odds, and survive.